How to Sell Ideas Before Products

Expect to be faced with this decision early in your career as an entrepreneur: will your business sell tried-and-true products, with a few personal takes and minor improvements, to a pre-established market? Or will your business innovate a brand new product and build its own market to match? If you choose the second route, your risks will be higher—as will be the rewards if you succeed. Many industry giants are giants because they created their industry. Here are 3 examples of business who sold ideas before products:
  1. The Warner Brothers and Talkies
We’re all familiar with the trumpets and drumroll that accompany the Warner Brother’s logo onto the big screen, so you might be surprised to learn that there was a time when Warner Brother’s was teetering on bankruptcy. In 1925, films were just beginning to make the transition from silent pics to “talkies.” Sam Warner was immediately excited by the idea of talking actors, but his brother and business partner, Harry, was unconvinced. Harry’s position was, “Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” In the end, as you probably guessed, Sam Warner won out. After a grueling match with his brother, he finally managed to sell Harry on the idea of allowing actors to speak. The first Warner Brother talkie was a success that saved the company from going under, but it wouldn’t have been possible if Sam Warner hadn’t duked it out for his idea.
  1. IBM and the PC
Computers came onto the market as lumbering giants, useful to NASA or Harvard, perhaps, but totally out of place in the home of common citizens. That was before IBM came onto the scene. IBM won over the opinion of the masses with “personal computer” prototypes that demonstrated the value of an in-home computer. Through a huge marketing push, the company re-invented public perception of what a computer was. The legacy of that marketing campaign is still with us today. What is a PC? Something we can’t live without!
  1. Miller Lite and the Light Beer
Alcohol has never been among the most difficult commodities to sell to consumers—but when Miller Lite decided to introduce “light” beer to the world, they had their work cut out for them. Dieting was considered a lady’s interest, while beer guzzling definitely belonged in the male domain. What’s more, public opinion held that diet foods never tasted as good as their “whole” counterparts. Miller Lite attacked both pre-conceived notions head on, airing a massive ad campaign with “real men” applauding the great taste of Miller Lite. And it worked! In exchange for creating this new niche market, Miller Lite dominated the “light beer” industry for years—something that would have been nearly impossible if they had tackled the pre-existing beer industry. If you choose to follow in the footsteps of these legendary brands by creating a highly innovative product, be prepared to talk yourself blue in the face about how good your idea is before you start selling products. You may dominate your market in the end, but you will have to build your market from the ground-up.
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